Watershed Core, 2021
The US is experiencing not only a substantial economic and public health crisis related to Covid-19 but an underlying public water crisis. Millions of people face obstacles to accessing safe, clean running water daily. Agricultural runoff, byproducts of disinfection agents, as well as aging infrastructure like lead pipes, have contaminated drinking water, especially in minority and low-income communities.
In 2014, the city of Detroit began disconnecting residents' water as part of a debt-collection program, and has since disconnected over 141,000 households in an act that the United Nations deemed a human rights violation. Infrastructure repairs, environmental clean-ups, and water privatization have all led to higher costs for individuals. While the cost for water has been rising around the US, the billion-dollar bottled water industry continues to use public water sources at unimaginably low costs for their products. (The Guardian, 2020)
In 2020, additional EPA regulations were rolled back, this time Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Section 401 gives states and First Nations veto power over industry projects that would impact local populations. These rollbacks make it easier for industries to frack, mine, and build pipelines in sensitive areas. This will affect land, air, and water, creating additional environmental sacrificial zones (mining and fracking have been found to heighten drinking water contamination risk from toxins like benzene, diesel, heavy metal pollution, cyanide, and sulphuric acid to name some). New York and surrounding states have used Section 401 to protect residential drinking water numerous times, including by creating high profile projects like the Constitution Pipeline and the Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline. Addressing environmental, health, and economic conditions in and around New York City's watershed is a vital precondition for the creation of a more just present and future for urban and rural New Yorkers.
Public Water brings attention to the rarely-seen labor that humans (and non-humans) do to care for New York City's drinking water. The project takes multiple forms, including a year-long digital campaign, large-scale public sculpture, and education initiatives. Watershed Core is a sculptural ecosystem made of steel, reused plastic, reused wood, plants, soil, stone that mimics the natural filtration in the New York City drinking watershed. (http://www.public-water.com)
A Year of Public Water, 2020. Digital Campaign sharing histories of NYC’s drinking watershed from deep time to today. Part of the Public Water project with +More Art and Prospect Park Alliance. Images courtesy of +More Art